Monday, April 12, 2010

Art and Life Intersect: Annie Lebowitz's "A Photographer's Life"

"It's the closest thing to who I am that I've ever done."  So writes Annie Lebowitz in the prologue to her collection entitled A Photographer's Life: 1999-2005.  As I took a quiet walk through the gift shop at the Dallas Museum of Art last week (I was waiting on the fantastic fish tacos from their deli, which are my excuse to get out of the office for twenty minutes and enter this place that is so serene, in contrast with my frenetic work life) I saw this ten-pound tome and decided it was time I owned this particular not-your-grandma's coffee table book. 

Soothing it's not, although it's clear Lebowitz didn't set out to be provocative.  Rather, she's honest, which can be even more affecting--and thus just as uncomfortable--to the viewer.  In addition to her best commercial work, she included deeply personal photographs. 

There are surprises here, both in her extraordinary work and in the way the photographs are arranged.  Gorgeous, color-drenched shots of celebrities are juxtaposed with black and white photos of family gatherings, grandparents dancing around the living room with little kids, and then birth and death, both personal and in places including Sarajevo and Rwanda.  Lebowitz doesn't pull punches, and some photos are shocking.  In addition to the famous shot of Demi Moore pregnant and naked for the cover of Vanity Fair,  there are several of Lebowitz herself in the late stages of pregnancy, not nearly so demure.  There are many, many photos of her partner, Susan Sontag, the brilliant author and clearly the major emotional force in her life.  There are some of Ground Zero in lower Manhattan and a couple of blood stains she shot elsewhere, with tremendous effect.

So you'll see Brad Pitt in snakeskin boots and animal print pants, Las Vegas showgirls in costume and not. Then O.J. Simpson looking directly at the lens across a courtroom as he leaves during one day of his trial back in 1994.  (You tell me what's in those eyes.  I've looked at it for a long, long time but can't decide.) Then a gorgeous portrait of her parents, faces lined with lives lived well, on their fiftieth wedding anniversary, followed by incredibly tender pictures of her lover going through cancer treatment and her father in his last days. 

Most of us divide our lives into segments of work, love, grief and joy.  The great accomplishment of this book is that Lebowitz is so very brave to put them all together.   

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